I’m recovering from dental implant surgery. It was the back molar, there was an infection, despite having a root canal and so much invested in that tooth, and it had to be extracted and I was lucky the periodontist could do the implant at the same time, you never know, so it’ll be three months before I get my new tooth as opposed to six, but I’m supposed to ice fifteen minutes out of twenty and that’s just insane but the doctor called me yesterday and insisted so I spent all day with ice on my cheek while I read Colin Harrison’s “You Belong To Me.”
Now I’m hesitant to recommend books unless they’re slam dunks. In a short attention span economy people want to go deep, but to get them over the hurdle, to get them invested in a book, is a huge step. Meanwhile, the inane book industry is doing is best to kill the Kindle, with readers and bookstores singing hosannas, not realizing they’re relegating themselves to second-class citizens in the digital economy where we all live. Music revenue goes up with streaming and publishers believe by charging more for digital books they’re winning. That’s why Kindle sales are off. Used to be all digital books were under ten bucks. Makes sense, doesn’t it, with no printing and no shipping and no returns? But now, oftentimes the paperback is cheaper than the digital equivalent. ON AMAZON! People pay attention to price. And they’ll pay for convenience, but not if they think they’re being ripped-off, and this just sticks in my craw. T-Mobile revolutionizes the mobile business with competition, by lowering prices, but the publishers are a cabal supporting unrealistically high book prices to their detriment. And ours. And now I’m off on a rant, but no one is more self-satisfied than those who work in the publishing industry. The only reason they can survive is because there’s so little money in it. If there was any cash, Silicon Valley would swoop down and disrupt them. Which is what Bezos tried, instead he’s now revolutionizing news with the “Washington Post” and voice-activated computing with the Echo. If someone is not turning over bricks in your space that means you’re too far from the mainstream.
End of rant. Because now I’ve lost all the readers, because they love their physical books, and the non-readers, because they don’t give a shit. But if you’re still paying attention, I want to recommend one book. Start here. It’s an easy read, and it’s riveting.
Don Winslow’s “Savages.”
I told my shrink I was reading “The Force,” and he started waxing rhapsodic about “Savages” and he hardly ever speaks, he couldn’t hold himself back, so I purchased it and couldn’t put it down.
California is a dream, even at this late date. And Winslow captures the Orange County/Laguna Beach lifestyle better than any TV show. Because it’s a state of mind. It’s not L.A. and it’s not San Francisco and it’s not all about money but it is about hedonism and if you’ve ever been there you know Laguna is a revelation and…
It’s about dope dealers. It is a genre book. But it’s also about ethos, personalities, choices and reading it is going down a rabbit hole that you’ll be glad to be ensconced in.
And unlike the hoity-toity, revered intellectuals who went to the Iowa workshop and teach university courses as they write their unreadable books that sell fewer than 10,000 copies, Winslow knows it’s first and foremost about plot, story! I don’t care how well something is written, if there’s no story…
But there’s also insight, let me give you some…
“Walked two thousand miles and went nowhere.”
We’re told experience counts, but not everyone learns along the way. Just because you marched the steps that doesn’t mean you gained any insight.
“You sell the skills you have.”
Which is why you’d better accumulate some, so you’ve got options.
“Also: do not fuck with someone until you know exactly who the fuck you’re fucking with.”
Funny how those with the most bluster are the paper tigers whereas those who come on softer, even wimpy, contain an iron fist in that velvet glove.
“If you let people believe that you’re weak, sooner or later you’re going to have to kill them.”
Bingo. This is why people can’t get ahead. They’re too busy being nice to those who are fucking with them from above. The only way someone will respect you is if you stand up to them, do you have the balls?
“Ben still doesn’t get — Chon thinks — that you don’t change the world. It changes you.”
The longer you live the more you realize this. It’s a giant sluiceway with little control and if you’re going against the grain, trying to stay out of the maelstrom, you’re gonna get kicked in the nuts and fail even worse.
But the book that guy recommended at the Classic…
That’s the thing about books. No one talks about music anymore, there’s too much of it and we all listen to different stuff. And I won’t say that many people talk about books either, but if they know you’re a reader…
The dirty little secret is most books suck. And unlike with records, it takes hours to learn this. And you find what some people consider good…description, feeling, those are important, but what about flow and plot?
But this guy thanked me for introducing him to Winslow and he recommended Colin Harrison’s “You Belong To Me,” the book I read all day yesterday as I iced.
“You Belong To Me” is a curious construction. It’s a highbrow genre book. We’ve seen a lot of that recently, authors writing about zombies and the like to get paid after their highly-reviewed lit efforts rain down no coin. So, you’ve got a crime thriller, but with tons of insight.
No one can handle the truth.
But we all want to see it, it’s oh-so-rare.
That’s what turns me on. When someone is speaking my truth back to me, when I feel I’m not the only person on the planet with these thoughts. And in “You Belong To Me” there are comments about the world at large and relationships and aging and wisdom that are so right on that until the book became about plot twists at the end I couldn’t wait to recommend it to you.
But I still will.
Now Colin Harrison went to Iowa. He’s a working stiff. At Scribner. Which is probably why none of his books have taken off. You’ve got to put everything into it. This guy is just one step away. He’s got to decide whether he’s writing genre fiction or literature, and he’d be better doing the latter, but it’s harder to get an audience there, the bar is higher, but let’s see if I can drop some of Harrison’s wisdom on you here.
“His nephews were young and confused. They suffered the fallacy of perception: They thought because they perceived something, such as ‘family honor,’ that it really existed.”
What does a fiftysomething gang member think. Get old enough and you gain perspective, you see what is really important. That’s what our youth-focused culture does not want to admit. That most of its games are irrelevant. You learn this as you age.
“‘Everyone wants control and no one gets it. I thought you knew that. That’s one of the lessons of life, okay?'”
You think you’re important, you move mountains, but it’s just an illusion. If you can’t cope with failure, things not going your way, bumps in the road, you’re going to get bounced off the freeway of life. Control freaks fail.
“He was amazed, and not for the first time, how little he really knew about anybody.”
People are a mystery. You can talk to them every day and then they’ll jump the rails, do something completely unexpected. But we all want to be known, Rachel is begging Paul to tell her his story. The more you hold back, the more it is to your detriment. Life is about sharing.
“You had to have places in the city like that, places that didn’t change, or you didn’t know who you were anymore.”
That’s the horror of aging. The changes. What used to be there but is not anymore. You need to know that the touchstones of your life still exist. Which is why you return to these shrines. And when you return and they’re gone or changed irrevocably, you’re uprooted, unsettled, without reference points you’re in free fall.
So if you like “Savages,” and if you’re a fan of sixties and seventies literature, the whiz-bang in-your-face it’s all about the Great American Novel paradigm, you will, you can also read its prequel, “The Kings Of Cool,” but it’s not as good and certainly avoid the Oliver Stone film of “Savages,” you can’t capture the essence of a book in a movie, or very rarely, it’s distilled to the plot and however beautiful Blake Lively might be she is not the character in the book, nor are the dope dealers.
So what I’m saying here is if you’re overwhelmed by our fast-paced society and you want to feel rooted, want to dig down deep and feel understood while you’re titillated, I’d recommend these books.
You can buy them instantly. Read them on not only your Kindle, but the Kindle app on your phone or tablet or your computer. You see it’s the instant reward that’s so fascinating. Making books exciting again. Hearing about something and being able to dive in immediately, discard what is not interesting if the sample chapter does not resonate.
But the old fogeys would rather you traipse to the bookstore with its crummy inventory so you can buy physical books to keep the English major proprietor in business.
What a concept.